The monorail proposal claims to address certain issues around the current Milford Sound experience, especially:
- The time it takes to reach Milford
- The perceived congestion at Milford because many buses tend to arrive around the same time
- The need for an enhanced tourism product on the grounds that the current trip is ‘tired’ and the road route is ‘mainly travelling through farmland”
However, if you look at the actual facts around Milford Sound you will find the following:
- The current round trip from Queenstown by coach takes 12.5 hours (including a 2.5 hour nature cruise on Milford Sound). The round trip from Te Anau is 7 hours. A round trip from Queenstown using the monorail will take around 12 hours 45 minutes if you allow industry recommended times for changing transport modes, so it could be an even longer trip than the current one.
- In 2004 there was an issue about perceived congestion on Milford Sound boats and at some viewing spots along the road. The numbers of visitors have dropped by around 100,000 since then so congestion is less of an issue overall. The monorail does not spread the arrivals of visitors because of the length of the trip so it has no effect on congestion. Also its customers will still travel into Milford Sound on coaches, as they do now.
- Customer satisfaction rates on a major operator’s trips to Milford Sound are extremely high (average over 90%, and even higher for trips starting from Te Anau), so there is no evidence that the current product is ‘tired’. Also the road route is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, from the trip along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, through the tussock-covered hills outside Mossburn, along farmland with dramatic mountainous backdrop and on to the extraordinary road to Milford Sound itself. The product is not tired, but local tourism operators are well aware that the tourists are often tired because they tend to travel too quickly through New Zealand and end up over-stimulated.
Over the years a number of options have been put forward for improving access to Milford Sound and reducing perceived congestion.
This is a list of the main options that have been considered with links where you can find out more about them:
- If you want a shorter day-trip it is best to start from Te Anau, rather than Queenstown (7 hours instead of 12.5). It makes for a much more leisurely day.
- If you want to reduce perceived congestion at Milford (if it is even a problem any more) a Park and Ride scheme with toll road has been analysed as being the most favourable option. Also more people starting from Te Anau would allow visitor arrivals to be spread more evenly throughout the day.
- If you want to reduce customer tiredness the real solution is to encourage them to slow down their travel. This would mean educating agents and tour operators to develop more relaxing and engaging itineraries
- The Milford Dart tunnel proposes to put a tunnel under the Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, linking roads in the Routeburn and Hollyford valleys (DOC has invited submissions until 20 February 2012)
- Fiordland Link Experience (DOC has invited submissions until 19 March 2012)
- A toll road from Haast to Milford Sound via the Hollyford valley (not being taken further at present because it is too expensive)
- Upgrade of Milford Sound Airport (see Milford Sound Transport report below
- Booking system for Milford Road Corridor (see Milford Sound Transport report below)
- Upgrades to existing road (see Milford Sound Transport report below)
- Exclude campervans and private cars from Milford Road (see Milford Sound Transport report below)
- Sky Trail Milford – Gondola (no longer being pursued)
- One-way Greenstone Valley Road – Toll road (no longer being pursued)
Most of these options were analysed in a report called Milford Sound Transport: issues and options. This chart is a summary of the results. The higher the number the more favourable the option was considered. You can see the detailed analysis in the Transport Study Options.
From this evidence it looks as if the Park and Ride option is by far the most beneficial at all levels, from local to international.